Bridge-Free members head to Victoria to lobby Ministry

Sounder News

Tuesday, May 26 2015

The members of the Bridge-Free Salish Sea (BFSS) organization were able to meet with provincial representatives this past week with regard to the ongoing issue of a fixed link connecting Gabriola to Vancouver Island.

Doug Routley, MLA for Nanaimo-North Cowichan, and Claire Trevena (MLA North Island and NDP Transportation Critic) coordinated the meeting between two Assistant Deputy Ministers and Chris Bowers and Steve O’Neill representing BFSS.

Bowers reported they met with Routley briefly before the meeting with Kevin Richter, Assistant Deputy Minister of Highways, and Deborah Bowman, Assistant Deputy Minister of Transportation Policy and Programs along with Routley and Trevena.

She said, “Both Doug and Claire eloquently addressed the issues surrounding the ‘feasibility study’ and expressed the concerns that they had regarding the way the study had been initiated and the reasons for initiating the study in the first place. They also asked when the study might be released and in what format.”

Bowers and O’Neil presented the concerns of the BFSS and expressed strong feelings that the feasibility study was seen as an attempt by the Minister to deflect attention away from the UBCM (Union of BC Municipalities) study that identified the negative economic impacts resulting from the changes to the BC Ferries system, and the increases in fares and decreases in service that ferry-dependent communities are facing. Bowers said, “We also expressed our concerns regarding the very expedient manner in which the Minister had responded to the request signed by 609 islanders for a study, and how the consequent presentation of the BFSS petition in the Legislative Assembly had received no response from the Minister, although there were two and a half times as many signatures from Gabriolans and Mudge Islanders as on the original request to the Minister.”

Richter explained the process involved in a feasibility study and confirmed that it was not yet complete. He indicated that the results of the study would likely be released in August. Although Richter said community consultation would take place before making any decision regarding building bridges to Mudge and Gabriola, he stressed that it was premature to discuss this process before the findings of the study were released.

“Mr. Richter confirmed that he would ensure that the Minister would be apprised of our concerns and of the very strong feelings we expressed regarding the entire process - how even the instigation of the study flies in the face of the established Islands Trust’s clear policy statement on no fixed links.

“We also provided Mr. Richter a letter of support from the Gulf Islands Alliance (GIA) and a reiteration of the very clear policy position and statement of support from the Local Islands Trust Committee.” For further information, check the BFSS website at: https://bridgefreesalishsea.wordpress.com

The BFSS has received the support of the Gulf Islands Alliance, which sent a letter to Steve O’Neill stating the GIA’s support for the No Bridge stance of the Gabriola organization.

Dave Steen, Acting Chair of the Gulf Islands Alliance (based out of Ganges on Salt Spring Island), wrote that at its quarterly meeting, “the Gulf Islands Alliance unanimously endorsed the positions of Islands Trust and the Bridge-Free Salish Sea Collective opposing fixed links to and between islands in the Islands Trust Area.”

Steen stressed the GIA is concerned that too much emphasis is given on short-term, and often short-sighted, economic factors in deciding matters that could undermine the “preserve and protect” goal of the Islands Trust Act. 

“Members of our 10-year-old non-profit voluntary group and others across the islands see a bridge to Gabriola as an urbanizing precedent that darkens the widely supported, enlightened vision of maintaining the Gulf Islands as a special place for nature and all British Columbians.”

A detailed position of the GSA on a Gabriola bridge is available on the GSA website at Gulfislandsalliance.ca.